Overview of high blood pressure
Stress, environmental pollution, physiological factors and numerous other triggers stimulate abnormal clinical conditions within the human body. Hypertension, clinically manifested as high blood pressure is one of the major global health concerns at present. Although it mainly affects people above 50 years of age, high blood pressure conditions have also started manifesting themselves within children and adolescents. According to the reports of World Health Organization, high blood pressure contributes to nearly 7.5 million deaths in the world annually. It is more prevalent in low and middle-income countries which lack awareness related to long-term consequences of high blood pressure.
What is high blood pressure?
In human body, blood pressure is the collective pressure exerted by the circulating blood on all the blood vessels (arteries).
When this pressure exceeds the threshold, we call it “high blood pressure”. Doctors have another term for this disease, that is “hypertension”.
Blood pressure is normally of two types- systolic and diastolic.
The normal systolic pressure is 120 mm Hg and the diastolic pressure is 80 mm Hg.
Elevation of either of the two values gives rise to high blood pressure conditions.
What causes high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is characterized by an increased pressure on the arterial vessels. Numerous environmental and biological factors contribute to the disease. The medical term for these factors is “stressors”. The main contributors of high blood pressure are as follows-
- Age: Dilatation, thickening and stiffening of blood vessels occur with age which can raise the blood pressure.
- Diseases: Existing diseases like Diabetes, High cholesterol, Kidney diseases or Cardiovascular disorders can increase the blood pressure.
- Diet: Diet rich in saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and deficient in potassium are the triggers of hypertension.
- Stress: Physical or mental stress can increase blood pressure.
- Hormones: Thyroid hormones and oestrogen are two prime contributors of elevated blood pressure.
- Medications: Few drugs like oral contraceptive pills and diet pills can increase blood pressure.
- Sleep apnea: Shortage of breath during sleep can cause oxygen deficiency within the body and raise the blood pressure.
- Excessive intake of tobacco, alcohol or caffeine can increase blood pressure
- Obesity and lack of physical activities can be the major contributors in some patients.
What are the signs of high blood pressure?
Since the permissible limits of systolic and diastolic pressures are 130 mm Hg and 90 mm Hg respectively, hence high blood pressure conditions are not easily identifiable in the initial stages. Physicians normally warn people about the following symptoms-
- Sudden rush of blood in the body due to spike of blood pressure
- Flushed face due to dilatation of blood vessels
- Sudden breathlessness (especially sleep apnea)
- Irregular heart rates (palpitation)
- Nose bleeding in extreme cases
- Nausea and giddiness
- Chest pain and discomfort (cardiac arrest in extreme cases)
- Occasional blood spot in the eye due to conjunctival haemorrhage
- Severe headaches and anxiety
- Extreme fatigue
What are the types of high blood pressure?
Hypertension can be roughly categorized as (a) High Systolic Pressure (high rate of ventricular contraction) and (b) High Diastolic Pressure (increased rate of ventricular dilatation). But the more scientific classification of high blood pressure or “hypertension” is given below-
- Primary Hypertension: It is the most common form of the disease. It does not have any specific identifiable cause. It is also called “essential” hypertension.
- Secondary Hypertension: This is an outcome of some existing disease such as Hyperthyroidism, Renal Dysfunctions or congenital defects that impact a blood vessel close to the heart or brain.
Is there any long-term effect?
Hypertension, if ignored for a prolonged period of time can lead to some detrimental effects on the vital body organs. The most critical effects are as follows-
- Cardiovascular disorders: Hypertension can eventually lead to thickening and stiffening of the walls of the blood vessels (to sustain the increased pressure of blood) which causes narrowing of the arterial passage. This leads to arterial blockage and can cause coronary artery diseases. Risks of cardiac arrests are increased manifold.
- Pulmonary failure: Enlargement of heart can occur at some advanced stage, causing decreased pumping efficiency of the heart and accumulation of excess fluid in the lungs. This can cause pulmonary disorders.
- Renal failure: Narrowing and thickening of blood vessels of kidney occur, causing decreased excretion capacity of the kidney. This leads to accumulation of excess waste in the bloodstream, causing major kidney diseases (nephritis).
Who form the vulnerable groups?
High blood pressure conditions are more prominent after the age of 60. In few ethnic groups, men are more prone to high blood pressure conditions than women. Caucasians or Hispanic-Americans show less tendencies of high blood pressure than African Americans. Recent survey by WHO shows that Africa has the highest record of high blood pressure (45%).
Does heredity play any role?
Genetic variants affecting systolic and diastolic blood pressures were examined by the National Institute of Health (USA) research workers. They have discovered 16 new variants of genes that normally control the blood pressure. They measured the variation of blood pressure due to these mutations as 35%.
Accurate diagnosis of high blood pressure conditions is necessary to regulate the contributing factors to some extent.
Regular monitoring of the Body Mass Index (BMI) and blood pressure is essential.In addition to this, thorough examination of eyes, heart (Echocardiogram), blood flow in arteries, kidneys and thyroid gland (to check for enlarged thyroid gland) are necessary.
Treatment and Prevention
Diet and lifestyle improvements are of critical importance when it comes to controlling blood pressure. Being overweight is considered as the biggest risk factor in developing high blood pressure. Keep your weight within the healthy BMI range. Not only this, one should also keep a check on the fat accumulation in the waist region as this fat contributes most to high blood pressure. Exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes daily by walking, jogging, cardio and aerobics, swimming, cycling etc. A diet which is rich in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats (nuts and fish), and lean proteins is best for regulating your blood pressure.
Having a healthy intake of potassium can counter the debilitating effects of sodium, which is responsible for high blood pressure. Low sodium foods, lesser preservative foods, zero to negligible alcohol consumption, and no smoking will help you keep high blood pressure at a bay. Stress has also been identified as a key factor causing high blood pressure. Reduce stress and monitor your blood pressure regularly in order to manage this condition.
There is no absolute cure for high blood pressure. Barring few cases, doctors normally refrain from recommending angiotensins, corticosteroids or diuretics, due to their adverse cardiovascular impacts. Global organizations are recommending a regular follow-up with their healthcare units to monitor the blood pressure. A healthy diet plan, a hygienic lifestyle, and support from family and friends can strategically improve the existing global health scenario.
High blood pressure home remedies
High blood pressure can be largely prevented and controlled by following healthy diet and lifestyle habits. In addition the prescribed medications and improvements in daily habits, the following home remedies can help in regulating high blood pressure:
- Sugar-less dark chocolate
- Foods rich in potassium such as bananas
- High fiber foods such as whole grains and oatmeal
- Blueberries and strawberries
- Vitamin E supplements
- Foods rich in calcium such as milk and green leafy vegetables
Unsweetened dark chocolate that contains at least 50-70% of cocoa is great for reducing blood pressure. It is also observed to have cholesterol-lowering properties that aid in controlling hypertension. Potassium is a key mineral that helps in countering the adverse effects of high salt intake through your diet. This helps in lowering the amount of fluid your body stores. Higher fluid storage indicates higher blood pressure. Similarly having adequate dietary fiber in your diet will help in lowering blood pressure naturally. Berries such as blueberries and strawberries open up the blood vessels and enable better circulation of blood. This helps in regulating high blood pressure. Vitamin E and calcium-rich foods also aid in bringing down elevated blood pressure levels.
- 1 out of every 3 grown Americans has high blood pressure, which is approximately 75 million people.
- Only half of these individuals have the blood pressure levels under control. Similarly, 33% of the population is in the pre-hypertension zone.
- This health costs associated with this disease is $ 46 billion per year in the USA alone.
- Above 45 years of age, it is more prevalent in men than women. Above 65, women are more commonly affected.
- The risk of stroke, cardiac arrests, cardiac failure (long-term) and kidney disorders increases manifold if one has high blood pressure.
- 30% of all high blood pressure cases are due to excessive salt intake
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Dos and Don'ts
- Get your blood pressure checked regularly. This is because high blood pressure doesn’t lead to noticeable symptoms.
- Certain non-prescription drugs such as ibuprofen might be responsible for high blood pressure. Consult your doctor before self-administering these drugs if you have high blood pressure.
- Diet and lifestyle improvements are critical for high blood pressure patients.
- Consume more salt. The food items which have the highest percentage of salt are savory snacks, pasta, cheese, bread, cold cuts, cured meats, and poultry.
- Consume saturated and trans-fats. These are most commonly found in packaged baked goods, red meat, and dairy products.
- Lead a highly stressed and/or sedentary lifestyle.
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